May 2017, updated 2021.
In 2017 Legitimate Leadership conducted a 15-month leadership transformation project in a major automotive company’s retail operation. Over 100 of the business’s leaders, from the CEO to frontline dealership managers, participated in the project designed to help them understand and apply the Legitimate Leadership principles.
The project gave us the opportunity to witness many successes in shifting leader’s intent from taking to giving, but one particular story has stood out for me. It is about a dealership sales manager in Pretoria, South Africa – Francois Fourie.
When I met him at the start of the project he was a successful sales manager. He had a team of seven salespeople, most of whom had worked for him for several years. He regularly made his monthly sales target of 25 cars sold per month, and his people gave him consistent results – he would often find that 2-3 of his sales people would be in the Top 10 performing sales people in the region every month.
At the start of the project Francois was assessed against the legitimate leadership criteria through a leadership audit (it is Legitimate Leadership’s view that the best judge of an individual’s leadership is his/her people). Leaders are assessed in terms of how they are perceived by their people against the criteria of Care, Means, Ability and Accountability.
The survey feedback surprised Francois. Despite the fact that the team was doing well, the feedback from his people suggested significant opportunity for improvement in how he led the team.
He took the feedback to heart, and set to work in applying the principles shared during the project. He gave particular focus to shifting accountability away from the results (number of cars sold) his people produced, and onto the contribution each sales manager needed to make in order to sell those cars.
Previously, Francois said, he would simply manage people on the basis of their results, which would involve counselling those salespeople who hadn’t met the target each month – and paying sales commission to those who had. On reflection, he found that his sales people would work inconsistently – if someone had done well in the first half of the month, he might take it easy in the second half, secure in the knowledge he would meet his target. Francois would not worry about this, as long as the results were being met. In other words, he was seeing a consistent set of results, but with an inconsistent contribution.
So Francois decided to change his approach. One day, he told his team that he would no longer be emphasizing accountability for results, but would be focusing on what each sales person needed to consistently contribute in the job. He ensured that he spent time every week with each person reviewing each one’s contributions and giving feedback with the intent of enabling an improvement. He spent time watching their sales game with customers, helped them to generate ideas for garnering new prospects, and kept them accountable for upholding deal file standards and administration. He ensured that they used all the means at their disposal to generate leads, kept up regular appointments with clients, and helped them think through what to do when they were struggling.
He ensured that he attended every application module we offered on the leadership project, and every review session – and he always brought practical problems and situations he faced at work for discussion and advice. In other words, he focused as intently on growing himself as he did on growing his team.
At our last contact session, Francois had for several months exceeded his sales target by a significant margin (on average his team were now selling 45-50 cars per month against a target of 35), and all seven of his salespeople were now regularly in the Top 10 performing salespeople in the region every month.
He attributed this success directly to his application of the Legitimate Leadership principles, and in particular the notion that people should be held accountable for their contributions, and not the results: “There is no doubt that the improvement of our results is a direct consequence of applying this principle. My people contribute more than they ever have, are more willing to do so than ever before, and I am far calmer and more relaxed. I think my people prefer the new person I am.”
The last deliverable in our leadership project was to perform a follow up assessment on each leader to see how his/her people’s perceptions had changed during the course of the project. The change in perceptions of Francois was nothing short of astounding – he improved significantly on every dimension.
Francois’s experience stands out for me because I think it shows quite clearly that one does not need a burning platform or business crisis to create a force for change. There was no external pressure on him to shift his intent; his results were good. The difference here is that he took the feedback of his people seriously, and engaged his will to change.
The results have spoken for themselves.
NOTE: I originally wrote this case study in 2017 on the basis of experiences enabling a shift in culture at a major automotive company’s retail operation. At the time it provided insight into what is possible when a leader successfully shifts his/her intention from getting to giving. In this instance, the leader concerned shifted both his own focus and the focus of his people from the results they were trying to attain, to the contribution they all needed to make to attain those results. I continue to use this as an example of what is possible when a leader successfully makes this shift.